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Life in a metal tube: It’s not for everybody

A primer on some of the more prominent duties aboard the USS Seawolf

On a submarine, ordinary activities are anything but routine

‘Nubs’ hit the books to earn crew’s respect

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ABOARD THE USS SEAWOLF — Welcome aboard, nub.

The first thing submarine school graduates learn upon reporting to their first assignment is that they are not yet full-fledged submariners.

They are "nubs," the equivalent of pledges at a very well-armed, underwater college fraternity.

Until they collect 125 signatures from qualified submariners certifying that they understand how every part of the boat works, and then pass their qualification boards, they better have a book in their hands.

"Once you check onboard, it’s qualify, qualify," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Kelvin Stennis of Chicago. "If you’re not qualified, you’re just taking up space. You get pressure from your seniors, but it’s tough love — although some people take it the wrong way."

It’s just not for everybody, he said. But Stennis knew it was for him the first time he talked to a sailor and listened to the proud way he spoke about the insignia of two dolphin fish that marked him as a qualified submariner.

"Seeing the fish on his chest, it was like a woman seeing a wedding ring for the first time. I wanted one of those," Stennis said.

Earning those fish generally takes about a year, although it may be up to 18 months for sailors in certain jobs. Sailors study during their sparse free time and then must find someone qualified in each department who has the time to test them.

Aboard the Seawolf, submariners qualify in five phases, followed by a final test in front of a three-man board.

Early phases concentrate on basic lifesaving and damage control. Later phases move through ship systems, followed by a walk-through quiz with a senior crew member.

Finally, the submariner goes before a three-man board for a test that can last for hours, at the discretion of the board.

Officer qualifications are similarly comprehensive but include more command-related topics.

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